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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 October 2017

Radboud University


This article argues that on the borderland between eastern DRC and Rwanda, the past and its representations have been constantly manipulated. The cataclysmic events in both Rwanda and Congo since the 1990s have widened the gap between partial and politicized historical discourse and careful historical analysis. The failure to pay attention to the multiple layers in the production of historical narratives risks reproducing a politicized social present that ‘naturalizes’ differences and antagonisms between different groups by giving them more time-depth. This is a danger both for insiders and outsiders looking in. The answer is to focus on the historical trajectories that shape historical narratives, and to ‘bring history back in’.

Reimagining and Contesting the Past
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their crucial comments on an earlier draft of this article. This article benefited tremendously from the comments and insights provided by Judith Verweijen and David Newbury. It would have been impossible to write this without the help of several Congolese and Rwandan researchers, and without the patience of many Congolese and Rwandans who were so kind to sit down and share their histories with me. Author's email:


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3 Personal conversation with a younger Rwanda scholar.

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13 The term Kinyarwanda-speaker is elusive. Many who would be targeted in these discourses do not have Kinyarwanda as a mother tongue – nor is the ability to speak Kinyarwanda limited to those contained in this group.

14 On the genesis of the term Banyamulenge, see Lemarchand, R., ‘Exclusion, marginalization, and political mobilization: the road to hell in the Great Lakes’, Centre of African Studies Occasional Paper (2001)Google Scholar.

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19 Büscher, ‘Conflict’, 169.

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21 Chrétien provides a good overview of archaeological and linguistic evidence for both the Hamitic hypothesis and the Bantu expansion; see Chrétien, J.-P., The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History (New York, 2003), 4759 Google Scholar.

22 Eltringham, ‘Invaders’; Jackson, ‘Regional’.

23 J.-F. Bayart et al., ‘Autochtonie’, 180–1.

24 Malkki, Purity, 54.

25 For an unravelling of this second premise, see Newbury, D., ‘Irredentist Rwanda: ethnic and territorial frontiers in Central Africa’, Africa Today, 44:2 (1997), 211–21Google Scholar.

26 Vansina, J., Antecedents to Modern Rwanda: The Nyiginya Kingdom (Madison, WI, 2005), 198Google Scholar; Newbury, ‘Irredentist’; G. Mathys, ‘People on the move: frontiers, borders, mobility and history in the Lake Kivu region nineteenth–twentieth century’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Ghent University, 2014).

27 Both in interviews and during informal conversations I had in Rwanda between 2009 and 2013.

28 P. Butamire, ‘While the DRC burns, the West plays roulette’, The New Times (Rwanda), 8 June 2012. References in daily speech, and this article were produced in the context of a discussion of the ‘crisis’ in Congo that was a result of the war with M23 (see below), ( A more recent example is E. Kabanda, ‘The next rebel leader in eastern Congo will be less astute and more brutal’, The East African, 1 Dec. 2016, ( The East African is a Kenyan-based newspaper, but Emma Kabanda is based in Kigali and used to write for the New Times.

29 Newbury, ‘Irredentist’, 218.

30 Ibid . 220n9.


31 At the end of October and beginning of November 1996: Reyntjens, Great, 56.

32 Newbury, ‘Irredentist’; Lemarchand, Dynamics, 64.

33 Lemarchand, Dynamics; Willame, J.-C., ‘Banyarwanda et Banyamulenge: violences ethniques et gestion de l'identitaire au Kivu’, Cahiers Africains, 25 (1997), 98 Google Scholar.

34 Newbury and Newbury, ‘Bringing’, 854; Vansina, Antecedents, 4–6; Vidal, C., ‘Alexis Kagame entre mémoire et histoire’, History in Africa, 15 (1988), 493504 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Vidal, C., Sociologie Des Passions (Paris, 1991), 4961 Google Scholar.

35 Newbury and Newbury, ‘Bringing’, 850.

36 African Archives Brussels (AAB), Ruanda-Urundi 5163, Nyanza, 24 Sept. 1914, Yuhi Musinga to Residentur. Original in Kiswahili, cited in copy ‘Pour traduction conforme’, Usumbura, 15 Feb. 1952.

37 Newbury, ‘Irredentist’; Vansina, Antecedents; G. Mathys, ‘People’.

38 Vansina, J., ‘Historical tales (Ibitéekerezo) and the history of Rwanda’, History in Africa, 27 (2000), 375414 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 Ibitéekerezo, Rwabugiri File, Ngaangure, T. no 33. The same sentiment is also expressed in Ibitéekerezo, Rwabugiri File, T. no. 49.

40 Collection Derscheid, ‘Notes sur les faits et gestes de Rwabugiri au Kinyaga, d'après Birasenyeri témoin oculaire et compagnon assidu du roi guerrier’, Par le RP Delmas des Pères Blancs, Nyamasheke, 1 Nov. 1929.

41 E. Mutabazi, ‘Les enjeux des nouvelles valeurs dans l'enseignement de l'histoire du Rwanda après le génocide’, Actes du congrès de l'Actualité de la recherche en éducation et en formation (AREF), Université de Genève (2010), 4.

42 On the existence of ‘non-Nyiginya’ kingdoms, see especially Nahimana, F., Le Rwanda, émergence d'un Etat (Paris, 1993), 98Google Scholar. Nahimana was co-founder of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) (see below). Nahimana has been convicted by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for his role in the genocide.

43 F. Nahimana, ‘Les suites de la conférence de Berlin: L'exemple de la délimitation des frontières nord et nord-ouest du Rwanda’, in C. Coquery-Vidrovitch Catherine (ed.), Autour de la conférence de Berlin (Paris, 1987), p. 69. See also Nahimana, F., Le blanc est arrivé, le roi est parti: une facette de l'histoire du Rwanda contemporain, 1894–1931 (Kigali, 1987), 3751 Google Scholar.

44 Pottier, Re-Imagining, 127–8; Reyntjens, ‘(Re-)imagining’, 62–5.

45 See, Republic of Rwanda, Office of the President of the Republic, Report on the reflection meeting held in the office of the president from May 1998 to March 1999, Kigali, Aug. 1999, (

46 Kalimba, C., ‘Le Rwanda: les frontières’, in Byanafashe, D. (ed.), Les défis de l'historiographie rwandaise, T1: les faits controversés (Butare, 2004)Google Scholar; G. Mbonimana, ‘Le Rwanda, état-nation au 19ième siècle’, in Byanafashe (ed.), Les défis.

47 Rusagara, F., Resilience of a Nation: A History of the Military in Rwanda (Kampala, 2009), 22, 55Google Scholar. Rusagara is a former Brigadier General who was close to Kagame and who held several senior positions in the Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) before being arrested in 2014 for alleged links with the opposition in exile.

48 Special Correspondent the East African, ‘Former RDF boss Rusagara arrested over “link” to exiled opposition’, The East African, 20 Aug. 2014, ( For a detailed analysis of Rusagara's ‘Rwandancity’, see Newbury, D., ‘Canonical conventions in Rwanda: four myths of recent historiography in Central Africa’, History in Africa, 39 (2012), 61CrossRefGoogle Scholar and passim.

49 Sundberg, M., Training for Model Citizenship: An Ethnography of Civic Education and State-Making in Rwanda (New York, 2016), 66 Google Scholar. For a thorough discussion and critique of itorero, see Purdekova, A., ‘Civic education and social transformation in post-genocide Rwanda: forging the perfect development subjects’, in Campioni, M. (ed.), Rwanda Fast Forward. Social, Economic, Military and Reconciliation Prospects (London, 2012), 192209 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50 Lemarchand, Dynamics, 64.

51 See Pan Butamire's quote above.

52 Willame, ‘Banyarwanda’; R. Lemarchand, ‘Exclusion’; Newbury, D., ‘Returning refugees: four historical patterns of “coming home” to Rwanda’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 47:2 (2005), 252–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

53 Malengana, C., Nationalité et citoyenneté au Congo-Kinshasa: le cas du Kivu (Paris, 2005), 82, 90Google Scholar.

54 Ibid . 89. For a schematic overview, see Stearns, J., North Kivu: The Background to Conflict in North Kivu Province of Eastern Congo (London, 2012), 24 Google Scholar; and for an elaborate discussion, see Jackson, S., ‘Of “doubtful nationality”: political manipulation of citizenship in the DR Congo’, Citizenship Studies, 11:5 (2007), 481500 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.


55 Malengana, Nationalité, 94.

56 Ibid . 95; Nzongola-Ntalaja, G., ‘The politics of citizenship in the Democratic Republic of Congo’, in Dorman, S. R., Nugent, P., and Hammett, D. P. (eds.), Making Nations, Creating Strangers (Leiden, 2007), 74 Google Scholar; Jackson, ‘Of “doubtful”’, 485.


57 Jackson, ‘Of “doubtful”’, 486; Malengana, Nationalité, 100.


59 Nzongola-Ntalaja, ‘The politics’.

60 Jackson, ‘Of “doubtful”’, 487.

61 The ‘first group’ of Kinyarwanda-speakers, those already settled in North Kivu long before the colonial period have their own chefferie, the Bwisha chefferie (Rutshuru Territory), and have ‘customary’ Hutu chiefs at lower levels of administration. Kinyarwanda-speakers not having legal access to land and ‘customary’ authority on the local level is mainly a problem in Masisi (North Kivu) where Kinyarwanda-speakers are the majority but do not have ‘customary’ representation.

62 Muchukiwa, B., Territoires ethniques et territoires étatiques: pouvoirs locaux et conflits interethniques au Sud-Kivu (RD Congo) (Paris, 2006)Google Scholar; Vlassenroot, K., South Kivu: Identity, Territory, and Power in the Eastern Congo (London, 2013)Google Scholar.

63 For more general approach of this process, see Mamdani, M., Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton, 1996)Google Scholar.

64 Kajiga, G., ‘Cette immigration séculaire des Ruandais au Congo’, Bulletin Trimestriel du Centre d'Etude des Problèmes Sociaux Indigènes, 32 (1956), 564 Google Scholar.

65 AAB GG/5915, Letter from the province Governor G. Schmidt to the district commissary of North Kivu, 19 Nov. 1956.

66 More detail on the colonial period: Mathys, ‘People’, 306–11.

67 Governor Schmidt supposes Kajiga is Tutsi; see AAB GG/5915, Letter from the province. According to Murairi Mutima though, Kajiga was Hutu. See Murairi Mitima, J.-B., Les Bahunde aux pieds des volcans Virunga (Paris, 2005), 51 Google Scholar.

68 Ceuppens and Geschiere, ‘Autochthony’, 387–9.

69 The Goma Peace Conference was held in Goma in January 2008 and reunited over twenty armed groups in negotiations with the government.

70 Mwenebatu Assanda Joseph, ‘Déclaration des Mai-Mai de Fizi à la conférence sur la paix, la sécurité et le développement dans les provinces du Nord-Kivu et Sud-Kivu Tenue à Goma en Janvier 2008’, emphasis added. Thanks to Judith Verweijen for this document. The palata was the sign the chefs médaillés carried. For a very short time, Banyamulenge had a ‘customary’ organisation. See Vlassenroot, K., South Kivu: Identity, Territory, and Power in the Eastern Congo (London, 2013), 1314 Google Scholar.

71 It is possible that Banyabwisha – in analogy with Banyamulenge – was chosen to stress differences with groups of Kinyarwanda-speakers who arrived later. On the genesis of the term Banyamulenge, see Lemarchand, ‘Exclusion’, 10–11.

72 See, for example, Mpisi, J., Le Kivu pour la paix!: Les actes de la conférence de Goma (janvier 2008) (Paris, 2008), 31 Google Scholar.

73 Muhindo, L. K., Après les Banyamulenge, voici les Banyabwisha aux Kivu (Kinshasa, 1999)Google Scholar. A similar vision is present in Mahano, M. G., Existe-t-il des rwandais congolais? (Kinshasa, 2001), 4650 Google Scholar.

74 Lemarchand, Dynamics, 13; Mararo, B., ‘Land, power, and ethnic conflict in Masisi (Congo-Kinshasa), 1940s–1994’, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 30:3 (1997), 523 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

75 Jackson, ‘Sons’, 100n5.

76 Dunn, K. C., ‘“Sons of the soil” and contemporary state making: autochthony, uncertainty and political violence in Africa’, Third World Quarterly, 30:1 (2009), 123–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

77 Boas, M. and Dunn, K., Politics of Origin in Africa: Autochthony, Citizenship and Conflict (London, 2013)Google Scholar.

78 See also, interview with Bernard, Monigi, 26 Feb. 2011; Interview with Jean-Bosco, Bulengo, 4 Sept. 2011. Referenced in Murairi Mitima, Les Bahunde, 93–4. I was told the name of the song is lwimbo lwa malira (the song of tears). Malira signifies ‘tears’ or ‘crying’, and is given as a name to newborns after the death of an important person. See Mitima, Murairi, Parlons Kihunde (Paris, 2008), 105 Google Scholar.

79 I recorded the song on 8 Oct. 2011. A copy of this recording was given to those who performed it.

80 The fact that the ‘tree’ and the ‘head’ are associated in historical memory does not necessarily mean that they have the same origin. The link between the tree and the story about the head could be iconatrophic, or could have been made later.

81 Group discussion, Bweremana, 8 Oct. 2011.

82 Schumacher, P., Die physiche und sociale Umwelt der Kivu-Pygmäen (Brussels, 1949), 234 Google Scholar.

83 Personal communication with David Newbury.

84 For the most complete overview, see UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993–2003, Report of the Mapping Exercise (Aug. 2010).

85 Group discussion, 7 Oct. 2011, Bweremana.

86 In North and South Kivu. See also, International Alert, Les mots qui tuent: rumeurs, préjugés, stéréotypes et mythes parmi les peuples des pays des Grands Lacs d'Afrique (International Alert: 2007).

87 On Rwabugiri's campaigns, see Newbury, D., ‘Les campagnes de Rwabugiri: chronologie et bibliographie’, Cahiers d’études africaines, 14:53 (1974), 181–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

88 Anonymous tract written by COPACO (Collective of Congolese Patriots), dated 10 Feb. 2000, cited in Stearns, Dancing, 345.

89 Mbonimana, G. and Karangwa, J. D. D., ‘Topical analysis of the songs Twasezereye: We bade farewell; Nanga abahutu or Akabyutso: I hate the Hutu or The Awakening; and Bene Sebahinzi or Intabaza: the descendants of Sebahinzi or The Alert by Simon Bikindi’, Expert Report Prepared for ICTR-01-72-0163/02 (Arusha, 2006)Google Scholar.

90 Transcript of RTLM's emission of 12 Apr. 1994, journalist Georges Ruggiu, RTLM/4, ( On collective memories on the cruelty of the monarchy among convicted Hutu in prison, see Jessee, E. and Watkins, S., ‘Good kings, bloody tyrants, and everything in between: representations of the monarchy in post-genocide Rwanda’, History in Africa, 41 (2014), 51 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

91 Kirschke, L., Broadcasting Genocide: Censorship, Propaganda and State-Sponsored Violence in Rwanda 1990–94 (London, 1996), 121–2Google Scholar.

92 Chrétien, J.-P., ‘“Presse libre” et propagande raciste au Rwanda: Kangura et “les 10 commandements du Hutu”’, Politique africaine, 42 (1991), 116 Google Scholar. Transcript of RTLM's emission of 2 Apr. 1994, journalist Kantano Habimana, RTLM/0190, (

93 Jackson, ‘Of “doubtful”’; Lemarchand, Dynamics, 213–14.

94 Jackson, ‘Of “doubtful”’, 486.

95 David Newbury dates their arrival to the late eighteenth century; see Newbury, ‘Irredentism’, 216; Verweijen, J. and Vlassenroot, K., ‘Armed mobilisation and the nexus of territory, identity, and authority: the contested territorial aspirations of the Banyamulenge in the Eastern DR Congo’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 33:2 (2015), 8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

96 Verweijen and Vlassenroot, ‘Armed’, 9; Stearns, Dancing, 95–6.

97 Stearns, Dancing, 58–9.

98 Verweijen and Vlassenroot, ‘Armed’, 9.

99 See Stearns, Dancing; more details in Mathieu, P. and Willame, J. C. (eds.), ‘Conflits et guerres au Kivu et dans la région des Grands Lacs’, Cahiers Africains (1999), 3940 Google Scholar.

100 Verweijen and Vlassenroot, ‘Armed’, 9.

101 J. Stearns, North Kivu, 27–8.

102 Verweijen and Vlassenroot, ‘Armed’, 10.

103 Stearns, J., ‘Causality and conflict: tracing the origins of armed groups in the Eastern Congo’, Peacebuilding, 2:2 (2014), 164 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also, Stearns, North Kivu, 27–34.

104 Especially for M23. Stearns, From, 48. For motives, see Stearns, ‘Causality’. For appreciation among Congolese Tutsi, see Umutoni, A. F., ‘“Where do we belong?” Identity and autochthony discourse among Rwandophones Congolese’, African Identities, 15:1 (2017), 4161 Google Scholar.

105 C. Vogel, ‘Mapping: the landscape of armed groups in the DRC’, Dec. 2013, (

106 Informal conversations, own observations Nov. 2012, July/Aug. 2013.

107 See K. Manson, ‘Rwanda's proxy forces muddy Congo conflict’, Financial Times, 26 Sept. 2012, (

108 On Rwandan involvement in M23, see United Nations Group of Experts (UN GoE), S/2012/843, Final report of the GoE on the DRC submitted in accordance with paragraph 4 of Security Council Resolution 2021, 2012, and UN GoE, S/2013/433, Midterm report of the GoE on the DRC submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of Security Council Resolution 2078, 2013.

109 Doevenspeck, M., ‘Constructing the border from below: narratives from the Congolese–Rwandan state boundary’, Political Geography, 30:3 (2011), 136 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

110 Heuning, L. C., No Mistaken Identity: Kinshasa's Press and the ‘Rwandophone’ Other (Zürich, 2015), 1, 296Google Scholar.

111 Lemarchand, Dynamics, 276. For more examples, see UN GoE, S/2012/843, Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC, 2001.

112 Personal observations, Bukavu, Nov. 2012. For references to this discourse, see Murairi Mitima, Les Bahunde, 169.

113 D. M. Onakaya, ‘Tutsi rentrez chez vous’, Le Potentiel, 30 May 2013, ( For more examples of the balkanization reference frame in Kinshasa's newspapers, see Huening, L.-C., ‘Making use of the past: the Rwandophone question and the “Balkanisation of the Congo”’, Review of African Political Economy, 40:135 (2013), 1331 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

114 Heuning, No Mistaken, 125.

115 Chrétien, ‘Presse’, 116.

116 ‘Vangu report’ or Haut Conseil de la Republique – Parlement de Transition (HCR-PT), ‘Rapport de la commission d'information du HCR-PT sur la situation au Nord et Sud Kivu du 24 avril 1995’, Annex to Guichaoua, A. (ed.), Exilés, réfugiés, déplacés en Afrique centrale et Orientale (Paris, 2004), 958 Google Scholar.

117 Janvier Buingo Karairi and anonymous researchers, ‘Que sais-je de ces guerres à répétition à l'est de la RD Congo!’ (2012). Digital copy in my possession thanks to Alexis Bouvy.

118 L. Nkunda, ‘Un mouvement authentiquement congolais’, 15 Jan. 2009, (

119 Published interview with Laurent Nkunda, 7 Sept. 2007, ( For similar sentiments, see Nkunda's speech in Nyamitaba, 6 Aug. 2006 in Stearns, From, 26.

120 On the naturalizing capacities of autochtony discourses, see Comaroff, J. and Comaroff, J. L., ‘Naturing the nation: aliens, apocalypse, and the post-colonial state’, Social Identities, 7:2 (2001), 648–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

121 For more examples, see International Alert, ‘Les Mots’.

122 Burnet, J., ‘Whose genocide? Whose truth? Representations of victim and perpetrator in Rwanda’, in Hinton, A. L. and O'Neill, K. L. (eds.), Genocide: Truth, Memory, and Representation (Durham, 2009)Google Scholar; Hintjens, H., ‘Post-genocide identity politics in Rwanda’, Ethnicities, 8:1 (2008), 541 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; King, E., ‘Memory controversies in post-genocide Rwanda: implications for peacebuilding’, Genocide Studies and Prevention, 5:3 (2010), 293309 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

123 Lemarchand, R., ‘Recent historiography of Eastern Congo’, The Journal of African History, 54:3 (2013), 418 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

124 Vansina, J., ‘The politics of history and the crisis in the Great Lakes’, Africa Today, 45:1 (1998), 3940 Google Scholar.

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